10.9.23

On My Nightstand: Summer 2023

Hi, friends! I’m back with the books I read in Q3 this year (July, August, September) and there were a lot of good ones that made their way to my nightstand. In Q1, I read 22 books, in Q2, I read 17 books, and in Q3, I read 26 books. The reading goal I set for myself at the start of the year was 75 books, and I’m well on my way with 65 books down! This past quarter, I had lots of vacation on my calendar — so between reading on airplanes and on the beach, I was able to enjoy so many good reads that I am excited to share with you today.

Before I recap all the books I read this summer, I wanted to remind you of my book rating system:

  • Five Stars: an amazing book I could not put down and/or stop thinking about once I finished it; would highly recommend reading it!
  • Four Stars: a great book that stands out above your average read that I would highly recommend reading.
  • Three Stars: an average book that I generally enjoyed, but if you asked me for a book recommendation, I’d probably recommend another title first.
  • Two Stars: a terrible book that was hard to finish; I would not recommend reading it.
  • One Star: a book that was among the worst I’ve ever read. You probably won’t see too many of these because I usually DNF (do not finish) these books and don’t count them towards my yearly reading goal.

I keep track of everything I read in real-time over on Goodreads and via my Instagram Stories if you don’t want to wait for these quarterly book roundups.

As is custom on these posts, I wanted to call out that I’m part of a program where Random House will send me some of their new titles each month. I’m under no obligation to post about any titles I receive, so I really can tell you my own opinion (good or bad!) about them. I’ve starred the books Random House sent me for free below. I’m so lucky to be sent books and am really grateful for the opportunity to partner with Random House in this way. And, as always, you can follow along with what I am reading in real time over on Goodreads.

Happy reading — and please let me know if there’s been anything good on your nightstand lately.

FIVE-STAR READS

The Beach at Summerly by Beatriz Williams

I loved this book — and it takes the cake as my favorite book by Beatriz Williams. I highly recommend it if you want a read that has a little bit of everything — suspense, romance, family drama, history!

The story is told across two points in time. In June 1946, the residents of Winthrop Island are preparing for the first summer season after the war, and a glamorous new figure, Olive, moves into the guest cottage at Summerly, the idyllic seaside estate of the wealthy Peabody family. To Emilia, the daughter of Summerly’s year-round caretaker, Olive opens a window of possibility. She’s traveled the world, fled the Germans, married fascinating men. As the summer wears on, Emilia develops a deep relationship with Olive, who encourages her to leave the island and see the world. At the same time, Emilia realizes Olive might not be exactly who she seems to be. Then, the story shows you that in 1954, Summerly is boarded up and Emilia has rebuilt her shattered life. As the narrative progresses, you learn bits and pieces about what happened “that night at the beach at Summerly” and the timelines converge in the most intriguing of ways.

The Next Great American City by Mick Cornett

I did this one as an audiobook after my trip to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and I loved it!

Mick Cornett was a longtime sportscaster before becoming mayor of OKC, his hometown. He talks about all the ways they improved the city under his tenure, and in each chapter, provides anecdotes about the ways other mid-size towns across America — like Charleston, Chattanooga, Louisville — are doing the same. We could definitely tell a difference in the placemaking that Oklahoma City had done compared to Wichita and Omaha, and so learning more about the ways they revitalized their core downtown was very interesting.

Boom Town by Sam Anderson

Once I finished The Next Great American City, I was craving a similar audiobook, so I read the Goodreads reviews and found this one. I loved it and highly recommend it to anyone — regardless of whether you’ve been to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma or not.

The central thesis is that Oklahoma City has always been a town of booms and busts — and the author fantastically showcases this cynical but using the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team’s 2012-2013 season as a storytelling vehicle to do this, weaving in the history of the city, starting with the Land Run of 1889, throughout.

The Summer of Songbirds by Kristy Woodson Harvey

As long as Kristy Woodson Harvey is writing, I’ll be reading! I loved this one and was so sad when it came to an end. Make sure you pick up this one as soon as possible.

Nearly 30 years ago, in the wake of a personal tragedy, June bought Camp Holly Springs and turned it into a thriving summer haven for the girls.But now, June is in danger of losing the place she has sacrificed everything for, and begins to realize how much she has used the camp to avoid facing difficulties in her life. June’s niece, Daphne, met her two best friends, Lanier and Mary Stuart, during a fateful summer at camp. They’ve all helped each other through hard things, from heartbreak and loss to substance abuse and unplanned pregnancy. The three are inseparable, even in their thirties, when they each find themselves at a crossroads in their own lives.

But in spite of their personal problems, nothing is more important to these songbirds than Camp Holly Springs. When the women learn their childhood oasis is in danger of closing, they band together to save it, sending them on a journey that promises to open the next chapter of their lives.

The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams

After reading The Beach at Summerly, I knew I wanted to go back and read Beatriz Williams’ other book set on the fictional Winthrop Island. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and as I’ve found with most of her titles, it took a while to get into it, but once I did, I was hooked.

In 1951, Miranda first arrives to the playground of the rich, Winthrop Island, from the margins of society, still in mourning from losing her father during WWII. When her beautiful mother marries Hugh Fisher, whose summer home overlooks the island’s famous lighthouse, she finds herself in a new world of pedigrees and cocktail parties. Uneasy among high society, she finds herself drawn to Joseph, who is part of a working class family on the island. As the summer winds to an end, catastrophe strikes.

Fast forward to the summer of 1969, when Miranda returns at last — desperate to escape her own heartbreak and find justice for the man she loves — even if it means uncovering every last one of the secrets that bind together the families of Winthrop Island.

Hello Stranger by Katherine Center

Katherine Center is one of my favorite authors — she has such a range of the types of stories she is able to tell, and her most recent title, Hello Stranger, is no exception.

One moment, Sadie is celebrating the biggest achievement of her life — placing as a finalizes in the North American Portrait Society competition. And the next, she finds herself struggling with face blindness after a terrible accent. She can see, but every face she looks at is now a jumbled puzzle of disconnected features, which not only impacts her day-to-day life, but her work as a portrait artist. She’ll need brain surgery to hopefully reverse the condition — and that’s not all. She’s seriously crushing on her beloved dog Peanut’s handsome vet, but she can’t seem to stay away from her annoyingly endearing neighbor. She thinks she knows who she likes more — but then, like their faces, that starts getting blurry, too.

Counting the Cost by Jill Duggar

TLC reality shows are my guilty pleasure, and since I have seen every episode of television that the Duggars have ever released, I downloaded Jill’s audiobook the day it came out. It was incredible — she is so brave and I hope she is proud of everything she’s overcome and all the boundaries she has had to set to break free of the cult she grew up in. I liked it better than Jinger’s book that was released earlier this year, which was more of a current look at her faith, while Jill’s is more of a typical memoir. And y’all — Jilly Muffin has the receipts. If you are also fascinated by the Duggar family, this is a must-read.

Fool Me Once by Ashley Winstead

loved this book and already added the follow up novel, The Boyfriend Candidate, to my Kindle to read next. Lee Stone is a 21st century woman: she kicks butt at her job as a comms director at a woman-run electric car company and after work she is “Stoner,” drinking guys under the table and never dating any of them seriously. That’s because Lee’s learned one big lesson: never trust love. Four major heartbreaks set her straight on this lesson, starting with her father cheating on her mom, all the way to when Ben Laderman broke her heart in grad school.

Unexpectedly, Ben shows back up in her life, this time working as a policy expert for the most liberal governor in Texas history, just as Lee is trying to get a clean energy bill passed. Things get complicated — and competitive — as Lee and Ben are forced to work together to pass the bill — and tension builds just as old sparks reignite.

Mrs. Nash’s Ashes by Sarah Adler

Mrs. Nash’s Ashes offers both great romance and great friendship storylines, and was such a heartwarming read. When Millie promised her elderly best friend that she’d reunite her with the woman she fell in love with nearly eighty years ago, she never imagined that would mean traveling from DC to Key West with three tablespoons of Mrs. Nash’s remains in her backpack. But Millie’s determined to give her friend a symbolic happily-ever-after before it’s too late.

But then, a computer glitch grounds flights and Millie is forced to catch a ride with Hollis, an also-stranded acquaintance from her ex’s MFA program. Hollis certainly does not believe in happily-ever-afters, and makes it quite clear that he can’t fathom Millie’s plan ending well for anyone. But as they contend with peculiar bed-and-breakfasts, unusual small town festivals, and a deer with a death wish on their roadtrip south, Millie begins to suspect that her reluctant travel partner might enjoy her company more than he lets on.

FOUR-STAR READS

Paris: The Memoir by Paris Hilton

I did this one as an audio book and loved it. I was indifferent about Paris before reading, but I finished her memoir as a big fan. She’s a cunning businesswoman, and despite a life of presumed privilege, has overcome so much. As a teenager of the aughts, I spent a lot of my time in high school reading gossip blogs about Paris and Nicole — I didn’t know that much about her life before The Simple Life, but she shares so vulnerability about her time at Provo Canyon School, during which she was physically and sexually abused. She also shares about how she overcame that trauma and how it impacted her life in the subsequent years. If you love a celebrity memoir like I do, this one is a can’t-miss!

The Golden Hour by Beatriz Williams

If you love historical fiction like I do, definitely make sure you check out Beatriz Williams. Several years ago, I read Along the Infinite Sea, which has some character overlap with this one!

The story is told across three timelines, which all eventually merge. The first thread of the story follows newly-widowed Lulu’s arrival in Nassau to write a magazine article about its newest wartime residents: the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. But as she infiltrates the royal couple’s social circle, she discovers that Windsor-era Nassau is rich with spies, financial swindles, and racial tension. And, at the center of it all, is Benedict Thorpe: a scientist of charismatic charm and murky national loyalties.

When Benedict disappears without a trace, the second thread of the story follows Lulu’s journey to London to find him, where she also finds his complicated family history, including a fateful love affair, a wartime tragedy, and a mother from whom all joy is stolen. And this is where the third thread of the story lies: with Benedict’s mother, 40 years in the past.

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center

What impresses me most about Katherine Center as an author is the diversity of the stories she’s able to tell. Her writing has quite the range! I couldn’t put this one down, though, if you’re a nervous flyer, you may want to read with caution.

Margaret is about to step into the bright future she’s wanted for so long: a new dream job, a fiancé she adores, and the promise of a picture-perfect life just around the corner. Then, suddenly, on what should have been one of the happiest days of her life, everything she worked for is taken away when she’s in a plane crash. In the hospital, she wakes up and is forced to face the possibility that nothing will ever be the same again. First, there is her fiancé, Chip, who is walling in self-pity while simultaneously expecting to be forgiven. Then, there’s her sister Kit, who shows up after pulling a three-year vanishing act. Finally, there’s Ian, her physical therapist, the one the nurses said was too tough for her — but also the one who won’t let her give into her self-pity and sees her like no one has seen her before.

Yours Truly by Abby Jimenez

This is the second book in Abby Jimenez’s Part of Your World series and it was so cute! I read the first book in the series earlier this year and enjoyed this one equally as much. I would classify it more as a spin-off than a sequel, but there are cameos from the characters in the first book!

Dr. Briana Ortiz’s life is seriously flatlining. Her divorce is just about finalized, her brother’s running out of time to find a kidney donor, and that promotion she wants? It’s probably going to the new doctor, Dr. Jacob Maddox, that just joined the team. But just when all her systems are set to hating Dr. Maddox, he completely flips the game by sending Briana a letter. And it’s a really good letter. Like the kind that proves Jacob isn’t actually Satan. Worse, he might be this fantastically funny and likable guy who’s just terrible at first impressions. Because suddenly, Jacob and Briana are exchanging letters, sharing lunch dates in her “sob closet,” and discussing the merits of freakishly tiny horses. But when Jacob decides to give Briana the best gift imaginable — a kidney for her brother — she wonders just how she can resist this quietly sexy new doctor, especially when she calls in a favor he can’t refuse.

The Glass Ocean by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White

In 2013, bestselling author Sarah Blake is struggling to find a big idea for her next book — which she really needs as her finances are in dire straights. Desperate, she breaks the one promise she made to her Alzheimer’s-stricken mother and opens an old chest that belonged to her great-grandfather, who died when the RMS Lusitania was sunk by a German U-boat. What she discovers could change history, so she embarks on a journey to England to enlist the help of John Langford, a recently disgraced Member of Parliament whose family archives might have information that will be helpful.

In 1915, southern belle Caroline Telfair Hochstetter’s marriage is in crisis. Her formerly attentive husband, Gilbert, has become pre-occupied with his business — and something else she can’t quite put a finger on. She’s hoping a trip to London on the Lusitania will help them reconnect, but she also can’t ignore a spark she feels with Robert Langford, her old friend, who is also planning to set sail.Concurrently, Tessa Fairweather is traveling second-class on the Lusitania, returning home to Devon, England. Or at least, that’s her story. Tessa has never left the US and her English accent is a hasty fake. She’s really Tennessee Schaff, the daughter of a roving con man, and she can steal and forge just about anything. But she’s had enough. Her partner promised if they can pull off this one last heist aboard the Lusitania, they’ll finally leave the game behind. Tess wants to believe that, but she knows it’s going to be more complicated that it seems.

Kismet by Becky Chalsen

This was Becky Chalsen’s debut novel and I hope she continues to write, as I really enjoyed this story.

For as long as anyone can remember, it has been Amy, Jo, and Ben. Amy and Jo are the inseparable Sharp twins who couldn’t be more different and Ben is Amy’s childhood sweetheart turned husband. But as this year’s Fourth of July weekend approaches, something feels off. Jo’s whirlwind engagement and wedding ceremony now eclipses the twins’ long-awaited 30th birthday. Recent arguments between Amy and Ben have left their marriage strained. And, as the family’s beach town transforms for Jo’s wedding weekend, Amy’s trusted trio will be tested by the most unexpected hurdle yet: the arrival of a handsome, mysterious newcomer in a best man suit. One with a strikingly familiar face. A face that Amy had planned to never see again. And even the strongest SPF won’t even be able to protect the Sharp family from the secrets that come out this weekend.

None of This is True by Lisa Jewell

This thriller was a ride — I really enjoyed it and found it widely unpredictable. I will say that the ending is somewhat unsatisfying because it’s somewhat left up to the reader’s interpretation what happens after the book ends.

Popular podcaster Alix Summers is celebrating her 45th birthday at a restaurant when Josie Fair approaches her in the bathroom to let her know they are “birthday twins.” A few days later, the women bump into each other again, and Josie mentions to Alix that she thinks she might be an interesting subject for a podcast given she’s had an interesting life and about to make some major changes. While Alix’s gut tells her something is off about Josie, she can’t resist the temptation to make the podcast because Josie’s right: her story is captivating. But slowly, Alix starts to realize Josie has been hiding some dark secrets — and as she begins to untangle what they are, she finds her own life embedded in the new podcast in ways she could have never predicted.

Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe

I did this one as an audio book — I thoroughly enjoyed it, but my one critique is that it is unnecessarily long. The author could have cut 25% of the book and it still would have had the same impact, in my opinion. It follows the saga of three generations of the Sackler family, who found early success with making the drug Valium, and ultimately, bears a lot of the responsibility for the opioid crisis in the U.S. given their development and marketing of OxyContin, which was originally sold to doctors and the FDA as a non-addictive substance.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

I’ve wanted to read The Devil in the White City for a long time — so as I’ve gotten more into audiobooks this year as a way to consume non-fiction, I added myself to the library waitlist for it. I really enjoyed it, but my one criticism is that it felt a little long — by about 75% of the way through, I was ready for the conclusion.

The book tells the story of two men: Daniel Burnham, the director of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, and Henry H. Holmes, the cunning serial killer who used the magic and majesty of the fair to lure his victims to their deaths.

The Happily Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez

This is the second book in Abby Jimenez’s Friend Zone series. Each of the three books has a different protagonist, and while there’s overlapping characters in each book, each of the storylines stand alone. I liked this one a lot better than the eponymous first book in the series, which is reviewed below.

Artist Sloan Monroe is grieving the loss of her husband when a dog named Tucker jumps into her car. Sloan can’t find Tucker’s owner, so she takes care of him and finally starts to feel more like herself. Weeks later, though, Sloan gets a text from Tucker’s owner, Jason, a musician, and he wants his dog back. But Sloan is not about to give up Tucker without a fight. But what if this Jason guy really does love Tucker? As their flirty texts turn into long calls, Sloan can’t deny a connection. Jason is hot and nice and funny. There’s no telling what could happen when they meet in person. The question is: with his music career on the rise, how long will Jason really stick around? And is it possible for Sloan to survive another heartbreak?

THREE-STAR READS

Once More with Feeling by Elissa Sussman *

I read and loved Elissa Sussman’s book Funny You Should Ask last year, so I was excited to read this one! Candidly, I did not love Once More with Feeling as much, but it was still a very cute read.

Katee Rose is living the dream as America’s top pop star. Everyone wants to know everything about her and her boyfriend, Ryan, the hottest member of an adored boyband. One unforgettable night is all it takes to blow up her relationship, her career, and her life. Fast forward a decade, and Katie is okay living as an ordinary person with her pop star life in the past — until she’s given the role of her dreams in a Broadway show by Ryan’s bandmate, Cal. The two haven’t spoken since the joint destruction of their careers and that fateful night that each of them blames each other for. But alas, the show must go on.

Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club by J. Ryan Stradal

I have conflicting feelings about Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club — in one regard, I liked it a lot. It covers an 80+ year timespan and I love inter-generational stories; I also feel like the author did a great job making the setting of the Midwest and the Supper Club itself characters in the story. On the other hand, it felt like a series of unconnected vignettes and some stories were better wrapped up than others.

The story essentially follows the story of the Lakeside Supper Club through three generations of strong women: Betty, Florence, Mariel, and Julia as they grapple with love, loss, marriage, and the legacy they are leaving behind.

The Hundred Loves of Juliet by Evelyn Skye *

I thought this one was really cute — to me, it felt like a mix of Tuck Everlasting, Kate & Leopold, and The Time Traveler’s Wife. If you like modern retellings of the classics, I think you’d enjoy this one (even though The Hundred Lives of Juliet isn’t one).

It’s a frosty fairytale of an evening in small-town Alaska when Helene and Sebastian meet for the first time. Except this isn’t the first time they’ve met. You already know that story, though it didn’t happen quite as Shakespeare told it. To Helene, Sebastien is the flesh-and-blood hero of the love stories she’s spent her life writing. But Sebastian knows better: Helene is his Juliet, and their story has always been the same across the centuries. He is doomed to find brief happiness with her over and over, before she dies, and he is left to mourn. This time, the couple wants things to be different. But can these star-cross’d lovers forge a new ending to the greatest love story of all time?

All the Days of Summer by Nancy Thayer *

Nancy Thayer books are hit or miss for me — some of them I love and some of them I find a little too saccharine. I thought this one was the perfect beach read — it was predictable, set on Nantucket, and offered characters that were flawed but likable.

Heather has a good life in Concord, Massachusetts,. But as her marriage is fizzling out, Heather has to decide what kind of life she wants to live next. Ready to seek out her own happiness and discover herself again, Heather decides to leave her husband and rent a cottage on Nantucket. And her plan is going perfectly — until her son, Ross, announces he’s moving to Nantucket to work at his girlfriend’s family’s construction business instead of going back home to work with his own father, like he’d promised. Worst of all for Heather, this means having to get along with her.

Kailee is thrilled that Ross is willing to move to her hometown. She has big hopes for their happily ever after, especially now that her parents are finally showing interest in her career. She’s less thrilled, however, about his mother living nearby. Kailee has clashed with Heather since the day they met. But anything is possible in the summer sun of Nantucket – even reconciliation. And when change comes sooner than either woman expects, they must learn to overcome their differences and fight for the future they want.

What You Wish for Katherine Center

I’ve been on a big Katherine Center kick this year, and am slowly making my way through all her titles as I am able to get them at the library. This one wasn’t my favorite — however, I loved The Bodyguard and really enjoyed How to Walk Away, and will definitely keep reading her books.

Sam is a school librarian who loves her job, and is initially excited when she learns that Duncan Carpenter, her former coworker who she had a crush on, is set to become the school’s new principal. But when Duncan arrives to his new role, the lovable goof she knew is gone, and replace with a suit-and-tie wearing, rule-enforcing guy that’s paranoid about protecting the school from outside threats. Sam — along with her school family — is determined to protect the ethos of the school they love — and get to the bottom of Duncan’s paranoia.

The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez

I read some Abby Jimenez books earlier this year and really enjoyed them, so I was excited to read more by her. The Friend Zone is part of a three-part series that are loosely linked with overlapping characters. I liked this one, but it was a little too saccharine for me. That being said, I’m still going to read the other two in the series.

Kirsten Peterson is keeping a big secret: she’s facing a medically necessary procedure that will make it impossible for her to have children. Planning her best friend’s wedding is bittersweet for Kristen — especially when she meets the best man, Josh Copeland. He’s funny, cute, and never offended by her sarcasm. Even her dog — who usually hates the men in her life — adores him. The only catch? Josh wants a big family someday. Kristen knows he’d be better off with someone else, but as their attraction grows, it’s harder and harder to keep him at arm’s length.

TWO-STAR READS

The Glow by Jessie Gaynor *

Truthfully, I didn’t care for this book — and probably would have given up on it, but it was the only book I had with me on the beach the day I was reading it. I wanted to like it, but just was never able to get into it — and I found all the characters super annoying.

Jane has two modes: PR Jane, who is twenty-five, friendly, and eager to sell you a feminist vibrator or a self-care subscription box, and Actual Jane, who is twenty-nine and drifting through mediocre workdays and lackluster dates while paralyzed by her crushing mountain of overdue medical bills. When her job performance is called into question, Jane’s last-ditch effort to preserve her livelihood and pay off her debt is to land a white whale of a client.

Enter the impossibly gorgeous Cass, whom Jane discovers while scrolling through Instagram, and her unassuming husband, Tom. Together, Cass and Tom are proprietors of a “wellness retreat” based out of a ramshackle country house that may or may not be giving off cult vibes. Suddenly, Jane realizes she might have found the one ladder she can climb, if she can convince the couple that transforming Cass into a high-end wellness brand is key to their shared futures.

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